Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Missing History

17 December

I would have gone to the protest action. I was bent on it.

I woke up early that day; I had a meeting with my boss. Quarter before nine, I was sitting in one of the campus’s more swanky cafés. My employer seemed to prefer talking with expensive food on the table. He sent me a text message that he was going to be late. I ordered a cup of coffee – hell, he was going to pay anyway. So I kept on downing one cup of coffee after another (their coffee came in rather small cups), smoking all the while. That’s one of the things I liked about my job – almost everybody in the office also smoked.

On the way to the café, I noticed a lot of people in red shirts. I was wearing a plain white long-sleeved top. Aside from it having a touch or formality, I was considering wearing it at that evening’s costume party so I wouldn’t be bothered on changing anymore. My thoughts turned to that afternoon’s rally. I was expecting the tuition fee increase proposal to be approved, me always the skeptic. Nevertheless, Quezon Hall was the only place to be that afternoon. Everybody was going to be there.

My boss arrived, and one by one, people started trickling in: the programmer, the web designer, some guy I figured was a former client, even my employer’s wife, who is a rather prominent broadcast journalist. Things turned out pretty fast. The software I was supposed to be working on was almost done, and I was told to meet them at 2 o’clock that afternoon at the office in Ortigas. I wanted to refuse, since I was going to the rally, but I needed the cash. I was a month late in paying the rent since I used last month’s money to pay for my tuition. So I agreed to go.

I figured that it was going to be quick. I only had to bring a laptop, get the software installed in the machine, and I had the rest of the afternoon. So I went home and lazed around for a bit. Around 1 o’clock, I figured it was time to go. I packed my computer in its bag, tossed the external CD drive in, poured a generous amount of pet food in the cat’s bowl, and went out. I didn’t want to take the train and the bus wasn’t an option, so I stood on the sidewalk to hail the first cab that passed by. I was actually on the wrong side of the street; I was going to Ortigas and all vehicles that passed me by were Fairview-bound. There was a U-turn slot 20 meters away though, so I figured I’d still get a ride.

Thirty minutes later, I was getting desperate. I decided to cross the overpass to flag a cab going the right way. Quarter before two, I was still on the street. So I motioned to one of those guys who flagged a cab for you in exchange of money. There were two of them, and I had both looking for a cab in a flash. One of them told me to get out of the street, the sun was baking my skin.

An hour later, they still had no luck. Almost every cab that passed by was already taken. Either that, or they didn’t stop at all. It was 3pm. I was getting really agitated. Thankfully, I managed to get a ride. Unfortunately, the traffic was hellish. The driver made unsavory comments about girls we passed by and I wasn’t in the mood for a conversation with a cab driver. I dozed off. When I woke up, it was 4 o’clock and we were deep within the Ortigas Business District. I gave the driver instructions to where I was headed. The cab was still running when I slapped the cabbie a 200-bill. I didn’t wait for my change and instead dashed out the door and ran to the double doors of Prestige Tower. A lot of people waited outside the elevators. When one of them opened, I squeezed in – rather rudely – and told the operator the floor where I was headed. I was two hours late.

When I arrived at the 16th floor (after a ridiculous amount of time, people were getting in or out at almost every floor), I was out of breath. I strode in the office and was ushered to the conference room. I plugged in the laptop I brought and waited. There were three other laptops on the oval table, but only one was being used. It was the programmer who I met earlier that morning. A few minutes later, my boss entered and fiddled around with one of the laptops. He opened a PowerPoint presentation and briefed me on the nature of the project.

While he was prattling on about the software, I texted Jerrie on the status of the rally. A lot of people came, the entrances of Quezon Hall were blocked, and the Board of Regents meeting hasn’t started yet. The PowerPoint presentation came to an end. The programmer started to ask me about the Lantern Parade. My boss commented on the BOR meeting. I said it hasn’t started yet and people were barricading the administration building. He laughed and said the regents were probably someplace else, perhaps Hotel Intercontinental.

The programmer started fiddling around with my laptop, but he couldn’t seem to install the software properly. He kept going back to his own terminal, perhaps tweaking the program here and there, and back again to my computer. Something was wrong. I felt my mobile phone vibrate. It was Jerrie again, replying to my earlier text message about the Lantern Parade being canceled.

After almost two hours of going to and fro, the programmer decided that he still needed time to work on the software. I hastily packed my gadgets, said goodbye, and strode out. It was rush hour, and I didn’t want to be squeezed like a sardine in the MRT. Cabs were sparse and far in between, and I was also wary about my earlier experience. So I walked the few blocks to SM Megamall and climbed aboard the first bus that passed by, robbers and pickpockets be damned. I wanted to join the rally, however late I was.

The bus was just turning to East Avenue when Jerrie texted, “Approved na siya, 7-0 huhu.” I felt all my strength drain. My youngest brother was to go to college in a little over two years. I was nagging him to go to UP since last year. I guessed that I was going to pay for his tuition even then, but hell, it was affordable. Now, he’s up to paying 1000 per unit – maybe even 1500, the full cost (it depends on the annual family income, and I didn’t know ours).

I got off the bus with all my valuables intact and walked the short distance to my apartment. Kat was texting where I was, the party hasn’t started yet, and they counted on me to bring my computer for the music. I fished a black beret from my closet, fished the toy gun we used while we were shooting Dalaw that summer, and went to the party. When I got there, everyone was sharing their anecdotes about the day’s events. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I fired off one question after the other, eager to know everything that happened.

So the party went on as planned, but with a more somber note. I got challenged to a drinking match, Jerrie got wasted rather embarrassingly, Kat went to sleep early, C-An was shocked by our behavior and Mang Romy was still pestering me to give him packets of instant coffee. My mother called me minutes before the party started, and I told her what happened at the BOR meeting. Lo, she was surprised (and I think a little disappointed) that I didn’t join the rally. But that’s how it goes, and here I am.

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